Saturday, July 21, 2007

Why I love Jesus

Mike Liccione tagged me with this meme, and the theme is an important one to consider. The ultimate reason is divine grace, of course, but here are some important aspects of my experience of it in something like chronological order.

1. Awe of creation. As a physicist, this is where I started to know God, and the more I study metaphysics, the more creation impresses upon me the incredible power of God.
2. Gratitude for the ability to accomplish something truly worthwhile. Being, as all sinners are, powerless and frustrated and utterly lacking in any purpose, I am grateful for the opportunity to do the work of Christ in any capacity. "Without me, you are nothing" (John 15:5) resounds in my heart; I know the truth of it as well as anyone
3. Intimacy of incorporation into His body. Salvation in and of itself might have been accomplished a number of ways, but the intimate union with God through the Incarnation is a gift for which we would never have had any right to hope. Adopted sonship is the greatest gift God could give, and He did so.
4. Friendship in the communion of the Saints. We all admire historical figures, but Christians uniquely have the privilege of having them as friends and brothers in this life.
5. Exultation in the Christian life. One reason I can keep up blogging and writing responses is that almost every aspect of Christian life is a joy to me, which surpasses the joy of any other endeavor. Coming to know Christ in so many ways is a constant surprise. Every time I have moved to deepen my Christian faith, it has been more rewarding than I hoped.

Normally, I am anti-meme, but this seems like an exercise worth doing, and I think it will inspire good writing. :-) I tag Dave Armstrong, AG, AV, Matthew Lickona, and Lawrence Gage.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Protestants who know nothing about Catholicism

Over at the Cor Ad Cor Loquitur blog, I've encountered yet another example of a Protestant who knows nothing about Catholicism but genuine believes that he does. Here is my response:

The conflict between Trent and Protestantism was not over whether works were the instrumental cause of salvation. (did you mean “faith” here ?)

No, I mean "works" in the most basic sense of "any human action." In fact, I agree with you that the Reformers were not even consistent among themselves as to whether the only human action that was the instrumental basis of justification was faith or whether baptism ought to be included. But regardless, they all believed that faith justified.

You are right on the issue of infused righteousness vs. imputed righteousness, if you include in your argumentation of the issue, as the ground or basis by which one can stand before God in judgment

That doesn't have anything to do with anything. The ground or basis by which one can stand before God in judgment is Christ's merit. Trent affirms that. It's not a difference.

Sproul and Gertsner flesh all of this out in their works, and explain the formula of the RCC system, “Faith + works = justification. So they do indeed explain the difference in infused righteousness and imputed righteousness. The issue was which one is the ground upon which one could stand before God.

In fact, that's exactly why Sproul and Gerstner are viewed by Catholics as being terminally clueless on this point. They appear to be oblivious to the distinction between meritorious/efficient cause, instrumental cause, and formal cause. The question is formal cause, and it is a strictly metaphysical one. If one grants that ontological righteousness can inhere in an individual, then the instrumental causality of human action is not even an issue. All the little intramural squabbles over whether faith is the alone instrumental cause of justification are irrelevant to the Catholic/Protestant divide. The question is whether the Protestant denial of righteousness inhering in human beings is coherent. If it isn't, then they've lost the fight before you even get to this other stuff. And by the way, it isn't.

One can never know if he is ever justified in the RCC system because your initial justification is dependent on baptism (an external work apart from faith and repentance), (an ex opera operato act done to the child, so the child has no experience of that initial justification) and then your final justification is never sure because it depends on your own works of increased infusions of grace by prayers to Mary and penance and going to ceremonies and mass and taking the Lord’s supper and confession to a priest, all drawing upon the treasury of merit in heaven. You sure know less than you think you do.

Going in reverse order, the treasury of merit applies only to temporal punishment and has nothing to do with justification. Your statement there was not just wrong but insanely wrong. The grace of the Sacraments come from the direct action of Christ, not from the treasury of merit given to the Church to dispense. They produce grace directly infused by God (likewise with the sacrifice of the Mass). Pious works like venerating the saints, penance, and alms can produce an increase in grace, but they cannot justify. Only the grace of God can do that. Those are just baseline matters of Catholic theology that are akin to knowing basic arithmetic. You can't even pretend to understand the subject if you can't grasp those distinctions.

The question of the child's "experience" of baptism and the adult analog of "certainty" of salvation is irrelevant, and worse, Pelagian. To think that anyone's "experience" has anything to do with anything is to deny that justification is a work solely of God's grace. Augustine's polemics against Julian, which appeals to infant baptism against Julian's Pelagianism, makes this clear. You're arguing directly against the guy who literally wrote the book on Pelagianism. All ex opere operato does is to point out that the human action itself has nothing to do with the efficacy of the Sacrament; the work is all God's. Perversely, you are making an argument that something in the person makes the Sacrament effective, while the ex opere operato position completely denies that anything in the person makes a Sacrament effective. You seem to be living in the same conceptual opposite-land that a sad number of Protestants (including Sproul) inhabit.

In the RCC system salvation is more dependent on the human works that one does after the initial infusion grace in order to keep increasing that righteousness, which is never perfected, which is why there is the need for the extra treasury of merits in heaven in which to draw upon, indulgences, prayers to Mary and other saints, and the whole doctrine of purgatory. One can never know.

This truly is stunning! Do you really think that the treasury of merit justifies? I've seen some Protestants say something similar, but it is so wrong that I wonder how any thinking person could believe this. Seriously, this is Jack Chick, "IHS stands for Isis, Horus, and Seb" type nonsense.

But these are the necessary and immediate fruits and results of true faith and not the basis or ground on which one can stand before God on judgment day.

Your statement directly contradicts Scripture, which says that eternal life is a reward for works. See, e.g., Matt. 19:29 and 25:31-46; Rom. 2:6-8; Gal. 6:7-9. Your dubious philosophical position has caused you to neglect the wisdom of Scripture, and if that isn't "vain philosophy," I don't know what is. Breaking the Scripture clearly isn't the correct solution, and there is no necessary contradiction between there being a "book of life" and eternal life as a reward for works, nor does the fact that God justifies the ungodly mean that infusion is not the method by which this justification takes place. Nor does the concept of "crediting," "reckoning," or "imputing" in any way contradict this. Indeed, from a philosophical perspective, it actually supports it, because it reinforces that the nature is being given something not proper to it as its own. But to pretend that this is a sham, something in God's head, simply defies the Scriptural witness.
But again, what floors me is the treasury of merit thing. Justification from the treasury of merit? That's the most ridiculous misrepresentation of Catholic belief I have heard in quite a while.

Honor among (Scottish) thieves

Dave Armstrong's post raised a question that I have been asking myself for some time: why are Scottish Protestants so ornery? The phenomenon, particularly manifested in anti-Catholicism, appears to generally apply not only to the Scottish Covenanters or Presbyterians, which one might take as the official version of Scottish Protestantism, but also to those of Scottish descent who adopt other forms of Protestantism (see, e.g., Southern anti-Catholicism among Scotch-Irish converts to Baptist or Methodist denominations). It's clearly not ALL Scots or Scots-Irish, but the generalization is not a bad one.

Being three quarters Cajun and growing up in the southern half of Louisiana, Scottish culture is pretty much an enigma. The name "Cajun" comes from the French North American settlement called Acadie, whose inhabitants called themselves Acadiens, shortened to 'cadiens and anglicized to Cajuns. That settlement was in turn colonized by England, who named it New Scotland, Nova Scotia. As far as I know, the Cajuns got along with the Scottish settlers relatively well, as we generally do with people who aren't English colonial governors, and we get along with the Scotch-Irish fairly well even in the modern South. But one still does find anti-Catholicism in any Southern state, including the Scotch-Irish strain thereof, so I have seen it even though I have never understood it.

But I was a little curious as to how Dave, a Scot himself, had none of this anti-Catholic hostility even in his Protestant family. Unlike the folks I describe above, Dave is genial in disagreement, although lacking none of the Scottish strength of opinion. Turns out Dave's clan falls in a certain group of rogues known as Border Reivers, the Scottish equivalent of cattle rustlers and horse thieves, also known as the "riding clans" for their proficiency in horsemanship (an essential characteristic for remaining alive in their line of "work"). The website above provides the following summary:

The Border Reivers were a group of Anglo-Scottish families that conducted raids against towns, farms and even fortresses during some of the most turbulent years in British history. The region between Scotland and England, which includes The Borders, Dumfries and Galloway on the Scottish side, and Cumbria and Northumbria in England, were wartorn and unsettled for more than three hundred years. From the reign of Robert The Bruce to the ascension of James I to the throne of England, Scottish and English armies led punitive expeditions against one another, ravaging the countryside.

These were also years of great treachery, during which many families, noble and common alike, switched allegiances as it suited them. Those families that resided along either side of the border did not know whom to trust, and took the law into their own hands to survive. Alliances developed, like the bond between the Elliotts and the Armstrongs - but so did feuds, such as those between the Kerrs and the Scotts, the Maxwells and the Johnstones, and the Fenwicks and the Elliotts. These families sallied forth against one another, stealing cattle and sheep, burning homesteads, and avenging grievances with utmost violence.

The Border Reivers became so inured to the continual strife in their lives that, when they baptized their sons, they left the right hand unblessed, so that it might wield a sword. That was when they baptized their sons at all. The Border Reivers were not known for their piety. It was said that they would rob Jesus himself if he rode among them. A tale is often told of how a man visiting The Borders asked why there were no churches in the town, to which his interlocutor replied, "Nae, we're all Elliotts 'n' Armstrongs here." Nor were the churchmen any fonder of the reivers. The Archbishop of Glasgow publicly cursed them with a resounding ferocity that still has the power to chill our souls.

Riding their shaggy ponies of Norse extraction, dressed in an assortment of helmets and homemade armor, the Elliotts and their counterparts brought sword and musket to bear against their enemies with neither rest nor mercy. Even when England and Scotland were officially at peace, the raids continued.
The era of the Border Reivers ended abruptly when Elizabeth I died and James I was crowned King of England. The Elliotts had often served as mercenaries to Elizabeth, and had harried James's mother, Mary Queen of Scots, on her behalf. Consequently, they feared and resented the Stuart king. In defiance of the new regime, a large party of Elliotts, Armstrongs and Grahams rode into Cumbria, and stole 3,000 sheep. This last hurrah of mayhem took place in 1603, and has been remembered ever since as "Ill Week". Later, more than a hundred of the perpetrators were apprehended, and many were hanged. Many others fled with their families to the Ulster Plantation of Northern Ireland, where they served as a buffer between the Gaelic Irish and their English overlords. The Border Reivers thereafter became the core of that fiercely self-reliant people known to history as the Scotch-Irish.

So it would appear that while the border clans were just as stubborn and contentious as any other group, and probably even more so (the Border had its own law a great deal like that of the American Old West), they also weren't culturally the type of folks to get into a fight on a matter of religious principle. I expect that this brand of cultural pragmatism is reflected in the less anti-Catholic Scottish culture.

Despite having reached the conclusion, I haven't yet reached the punch line. I mentioned above that I was three quarters Cajun, but unsurprisingly for a Southerner, the other quarter is Scotch-Irish. And what is my grandmother's surname, the one that was given to me as my middle name and the one that I gave to my son as his middle name? If you've been paying attention, the name won't come as any surprise; it names the same clan that was the faithful ally of Clan Armstrong: Elliott. Talk about Providence! An Armstrong and an Elliott just happen to meet each other in an entirely different kind of "sheep stealing!" And it also explains why a certain member of Clan Buchanan might be nervous...LOL!

UPDATE -- Turns out the Elliott branch isn't the Scotch-Irish part of Grandma's family. The Elliotts were from England, which would make them "Scotch-English," I suppose. That's assuming they aren't English Elliotts of non-Scottish extraction. But since I bear a Breton name myself, I'll throw in my lot with the Celtic country over the Angles and the Saxons!

Raymond's earlier questions

Raymond Spiotta had emailed me with some questions some time ago, and I kept putting off answering them, but I should really do that now.

First, (this is rather mundane, I'm sorry) - how might one access the archiveson your blog? I asked you a question about Created-vs.-Uncreated Grace, and amlooking to review what you wrote for the purposes of replying to anotherchallenge from my Orthodox priest-friend (who seems to think that the CC teachesthat Grace is created and that the EE distinction is heretical).

No, this is an issue that I've been struggling with for some time. I killed the time archives because I was irritated with keeping around relics of discussions that were more bad than good as well as random thoughts that I didn't think would be of any lasting use. I'd like to do a more subject matter oriented index, but I haven't done it yet. There are only about 200 entries, so I don't think it would be hard, but it takes time, and my head is barely above water in terms of keeping up with my reading and writing on current matters while I am thinking about them.

There is one bit of good news: my anti-library has now reached an acceptable size. This means that I have read almost all of the books that (1) I am going to actually be able to read given by commitments as husband and father while being more or less a pure autodidact and (2) I have strong reason to have a major influence on my thinking. As Michael Sullivan observed (although I can't find the entry in the Mondaology archives), you can always read more. The goal is to at least be able to map my own position onto scholarly argumentation, revising it somewhat as I learn more but retaining an articulable, good faith basis for the positions that I take. There are some major issues on which I am still working (particularly on Aristotelian epistemology, Thomistic infinity, and Scotistic metaphysics), but the good thing is that these are matters that are really intramural questions between Catholics. In terms of intellectual defensibility of Catholicism, I believe that I know enough to know with reliable certainty that its defensibility is undeniable. Catholicism might not be compelling, but almost nothing is. The point is that no one can produce any directly contrary facts or necessary premises, and that suffices for me. So that's a long way of saying that I think I will have more time to address that issue in the near future. :-)

Secondly, is it true to say that man's ratio has not been damaged by OriginalSin? I know this is a very open-ended question, and would just appreciate anybrief thoughts you'd like to express. (What St. Thomas teaches about this issomething my priest-friend considers to be grave in its alleged mistakenness.)

Remember that list I gave of major issues that need to be resolved? Aristotelian epistemology is the real question here, and someone looking at it from the perspective of Platonist epistemology is going to find this grievously mistaken. From that perspective, the ratio MUST be affected by the division of the powers. And St. Thomas would not deny this, but what he means is that the intellect does not cease to receive forms correctly and actually unite the knower with the known. In St. Thomas's view, people know the truth (their intellect works), but they deny what they know, and this is the misuse of their faculties. In the Eastern view, reason deals with dialectic and opposition between powers (the law of non-contradiction), which God transcends, so the notion of natural theology is impossible. The Aristotelian view of knowledge in terms of potency, act, and union between knower and known is so drastically different that it is hard even to articulate what the other view is saying.

Thirdly, I remember reading on Pontifications you asserting that the presence ofthe relic of Ss. Peter & Paul in Rome are a testimony to the perpetual fidelityof that city to the Faith. Do you think you could explain this further, andprovide some patristic support for his idea.

The martyr tradition was extremely strong in both East and West, and it wasn't so much the relics themselves that were of importance except for the testimony that they gave to the death of the two greatest martyrs in Christian history, representing the entire world (Gentiles and Jews). For patristic support, see Pope St. Leo the Great, Sermon 82.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Question from email on Scott Hahn and original sin

Someone emailed me with a question about Scott Hahn's claim that original sin in some sense was Adam's failure to protect the Garden of Eden, possibly at the cost of his life. I am going from memory here, but if I recall correctly, he said that Satan was implicitly threatening Adam with death and that Adam effectively failed to fight back. I believe that is correct if rightly understood, and my response to the questioner follows in the hopes that it might be useful to others as well.

The idea of Adam having fallen for fear of death is not entirely off the wall. If one views God's command as an implicit promise of eternal life if Adam does NOT eat the fruit, then Satan's contradiction is both a temptation and a threat. The statement "you will surely not die" is a repudiation of God's promise and a promise that Satan will protect Adam's physical life. But like God's promise, it also contains its opposite. Satan is saying "if you eat the fruit, I will protect you, but if you don't, I make no promise of protection." Naturally, the implicit threat is a lie, and Satan knows it is a lie, but it is a choice of who Adam will trust with his life. If Adam trusts God, then he should have no fear that Satan will not protect his lfe, because he should know that God will. But if he does not trust God, then his value of his own created life will cause him to ally with Satan for his own self-protection.

The temptation is Adam's own self-interest, but it also covets God's knowledge because Adam does not want to trust God's ultimate providence. Despite having been given supervision over all of creation, Adam wants more. He wants to have ultimate control over his own life as well, just as Lucifer himself did. Thus, Lucifer is tempting Adam with the same temptation he himself had: to be like the most high (Isa. 14:12-14). The temptation is a false hope, Adam's hope to be like the most high, to own his own life. Adam's act forfeited God's promise of protection, effectively taking responsibility for his own life. Even worse, because he then had knowledge of good and evil, he knew what he had done and was ashamed, but it was too late. He had already put his lot in with Satan against God, setting his will in unnatural opposition to God's predestination of his nature, which is what produces death in patristic theology just as a natural consequence.

I hope that helps to make sense of what I think Hahn is saying. The point wasn't so much that Adam needed to be brave, in the sense of natural boldness as a man might have against a predator, and quailed in the face of danger. The point was that he should have trusted God like Abraham did. And praise God! Jesus of Nazareth did this (Luke 22:42) where Adam would not.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Plug for a Catholic author

I want to commend Matthew Lickona's excellent book Swimming with Scapulars. I just got done reading it, and it is the sort of book that makes you glad both that guys like Matt are out there and that they are capable of expressing themselves in well-crafted prose. Seriously, we need more of his work, and I hope other talented Catholic writers will put their stories to paper like Matt did. Also, read Matt's blog for a sometimes serious but often funny (in that "you've got to either laugh or cry" way) account of being a Catholic pilgrim in a world that Satan is doing his best to claim.

I've added Matt to my blogroll along with A.G. (an Aggie scientist from New Orleans) and a couple of other Catholic blogs that I find interesting. Check 'em out!

UPDATE -- I just realized that I was grossly negligent in failing to add Lee Faber and Michael Sullivan to the blogroll. Mea culpa!

Open letter to Mike Liccione

I drafted the following as an email to Mike to thank him for his perceptive comment on the thread below, but I thought that others might benefit as well. The following is my missive:

I think I have completely got my head around your use of the spirituque now. It appears that the spirituque actually distinguishes the sense in which the filioque relationship is symmetrical from the sense in which it isn't (i.e., solely referring to the distinction between the persons). Filioque is thereby not intended (in the sense of origin) to convey the least sense of asymmetry in the modes of origin, and that is the work that the spirituque does. The filioque in the "from/not from" sense merely says that the poles of each relation are distinct, and it is not intended to say anything at all beyond that. But if it were mistakenly interpreted to imply that the modes of origin are themselves derivative, as in a subordinationist sense, then the spirituque would head off this misunderstanding. It effectively prevents anyone from thinking that the mere fact of relations connotes more, so that there is a sort of derivative divinity implied in "God from God."

I didn't initially see the point, but after Sceptre's questions, I realized that Patriarch Gregory's view was implicitly taking "origin" equivocally as between persons and divinity. In other words, he considered being the "source" of hypostatic existence and the "source" of ousia to be the same process (origin), just at different levels (personal existence, divine activity). But the whole point of the filoque is that nothing whatsoever is implied about the relations of origin other than the mere fact that there are such relations. Yet it appears that the monarchy of the Father at the theological level is understood to say more in the East than it is in the West, since in the West, it merely affirms that there is one and only one "from/from" term (the Father) without any additional connotations. Thus, you and Weinandy have introduced the spirituque to reinforce that the filioque in the West has none of the connotations of the type of relation that it might carry in the East.

The reason this was a light coming on for me is that the ordinary understanding is that the Latin view is the one that confuses personal origin and energetic procession, because Latin only has one word (processio) for what the Greek describes with two. But in terms of concepts, the Latin view is actually more sophisticated, because the Latin makes distinctions in the sense from (ex) is used that the Greek does not make with ek (as in ekporeusis). Thus, the Latin use of the filioque is not confused with connotations of "ek" that make its analogical use inappropriate (which is why the Greeks refrain from using a theological filioque, making it purely economic). It opens up a conceptual distinction that allows both theological and economic uses of the filioque, which the Greek view cannot allow on account of having a more limited notion of origin/aitia.

It really sunk in for me when I was re-reading sections of the Prima Pars for my discussion with Mark Thomas Lickona. The analysis of "ex" in "creatio ex nihilo" (Q.45, a.1, Obj. 3 and RO 3) drove home the conceptual versatility that St. Thomas has with the idea of "from-ness.":

Further, the preposition "from" [ex] imports relation of some cause, and especially of the material cause; as when we say that a statue is made from brass. But "nothing" cannot be the matter of being, nor in any way its cause. Therefore to create is not to make something from nothing.
When anything is said to be made from nothing, this preposition "from" [ex] does not signify the material cause, but only order; as when we say, "from morning comes midday"--i.e. after morning is midday. But we must understand that this preposition "from" [ex] can comprise the negation implied when I say the word "nothing," or can be included in it. If taken in the first sense, then we affirm the order by stating the relation between what is now and its previous non-existence. But if the negation includes the preposition, then the order is denied, and the sense is, "It is made from nothing--i.e. it is not made from anything"--as if we were to say, "He speaks of nothing," because he does not speak of anything. And this is verified in both ways, when it is said, that anything is made from nothing. But in the first way this preposition "from" [ex] implies order, as has been said in this reply. In the second sense, it imports the material cause, which is denied.

I realized that if one were to strip "from-ness" of ALL its causal connotations, as Thomas did in Q.45 with the association with material cause and Q.44, a.1, RO3 with efficient cause in mathematics, then one would simply arrive at Anselm's "from." So Brandon is wrong in thinking that this is a unmotivated deviation from the Fathers. Rather, it makes explicit the concept that the Fathers were implicitly invoking by refusing to affirm the filioque in terms of hypostatic origin, as Patriarch Gregory pointed out in his Tomus. It helps to make plain the *reasons* that the Fathers did what they did rather than blindly accepting the dogma. I think this could be of real utility in ecumenical discussions.